Dell'Angela can't and won't stop fighting until what sickens him — public corruption, stupidity, incompetence, cowardice, hypocrisy and apathy, or any combinations thereof — is vanquished. "Silvio is a rabble-rouser in a town that needs a lot more of them, and he refuses to be treated like a serf.”
BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI
To say that Silvio Dell’Angela is pissed is like saying the surface of the sun is warm, absolute zero is a tad cool and Mount Vesuvius once dusted Pompeii with some volcanic ash.
Dell’Angela isn’t just pissed. He’s furious, a thunderstorm of anger who regularly fires off lightning bolts of disgust at just about every city and public official in Albuquerque — the mayor, city councilors, the chief of police, the newspapers, TV stations, editors, reporters, lawyers, judges, the U.S Attorney and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Dell’Angela can’t and won’t stop fighting until what sickens him — public corruption, stupidity, incompetence, cowardice, hypocrisy and apathy, or any combinations thereof — is vanquished. Although he concedes that he could die before that happens, he has vowed to never stop railing against what he says is a sordid stain on his adopted state.
Dell’Angela’s record of demanding integrity from public officials goes back to at least the late 1990s. He began railing against police shootings years before it became a regular agenda item at City Council meetings, and he helped lead a battle in 2006 to kill then-Mayor Marty Chavez‘s trolley, or light rail project, on Central Avenue.
More recently, he has dumped on the DOJ for not going far enough in its excessive-use-of-force settlement agreement with the Albuquerque Police Department, and he said that the DOJ’s special monitor, James Ginger, doesn’t have any real authority to order APD to reform.
“I moved to this state in 1978. This is the longest I have ever lived anyplace in my life. I love this state,” Dell’Angela says. “It doesn’t have to be corrupt. It doesn’t have to be a culture of corruption. It doesn’t have to be known as the lousiest public education system in the United States. But people are used to it. People need to get involved, and if they don’t, the crooks are going to continue doing what they’re doing.”
Dell’Angela isn’t the last angry man, but he is quite possibly the angriest of the angry. The tools through which he delivers his outrage and demands for honesty and integrity are his computer, the Internet, email and his 76-year-old, 5-foot-11, 180-pound body, which he hauls to City Council meetings to berate councilors and city officials. The keys of his eight-year-old Dell laptop bear evidence of his fury; some are actually worn, indented and chipped, and several are missing all or some of their identifying marks.
His emails tend to be long, often running more than 1,000 words, with especially incendiary sections highlighted in yellow, using words such as “Gestapo,” “stooge,” and “crony.”
A recent email contained language that some who have been struck by Dell’Angela’s lightning bolts call Classic Silvio: “If the Pope ever came to New Mexico, likely he would also condemn the corruption and violence here on his first day.”
And he recently ripped a daily newspaper in Albuquerque for what he says is its bias by calling it “The Berry-Martinez Journal.”
Dell’Angela is defiant. When asked how he responds to people who think he’s out of line for accusing public officials in New Mexico of corruption, he replies, “I don’t respond. I don’t give a damn. If I was 21, I’d probably respond, but I don’t care. I really don’t.”
Those who would characterize Dell’Angela as an over-the-top crackpot who who just blew in from the heat, dust and wind and who sees corruption behind every lamppost and City Hall door might be surprised to learn that he’s a retired U.S. Air Force major, a graduate of Rutgers and Arizona State universities, a father of three and a husband of 57 years to his wife, Anita.
Dell’Angela spent 22 years in the Air Force and did tours in South Vietnam, France, the Pentagon and England. As a captain and major, he commanded a group of 420 people, all with high security clearances. He came to Albuquerque in 1978 to work on various “spook” projects at the Operational Test Center on Kirtland Air Force Base. He also has been a neighborhood association president and a member of the Albuquerque Citizen’s Team.
In the early 2000s, the ACT was tasked with helping oversee the city’s Family and Community Services Department’s spending of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development money for the city’s housing rehabilitation program. Dell’Angela and two other ACT members thought they spotted fraud and kickbacks, and they investigated. With the help of then-City Councilor Greg Payne, their report made its way to Washington, D.C., and HUD’s secretary. Payne later presented Dell’Angela with a plaque for his ACT work.
“Silvio did a great job for taxpayers, but the bureaucrats didn’t like him because of the fraud and waste he found in the system,” Payne says.
While Dell’Angela has always been outspoken and stubborn — he refused a final assignment from the Air Force — it wasn’t until June 10, 2010, that his full outrage at the system came out. That was the day his neighbor, Chris Hinz, was shot and killed by Albuquerque police. Dell’Angela called it murder and said cops could easily have tasered Hinz, who had been firing a shotgun at the ceiling of his far Northeast Heights house.
What sickened Dell’Angela about the case was that the man in charge of APD’s SWAT Team at the time, Bob Huntsman, was also a neighbor. Dell’Angela believes that Huntsman should have called off the SWAT Team and gotten cops with crisis intervention training on the scene. That, he says, would have saved Hinz’s life.
Dell’Angela says APD and the city stonewalled his requests for public records related to the case. Since Hinz was killed, the body count of people killed by APD has continued to climb. It now stands at 30 since 2010.
Dell’Angela joined with others in the community to get the DOJ to investigate APD. In 2014, the city and the DOJ signed a settlement agreement that is designed to reform the department and stop its officers from shooting so many people. In June of that year, he was escorted from a meeting of the Police Oversight Commission for displaying the American flag upside down, a “signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property,” according to the U.S. Flag Code.
In May 2014, he was escorted out of a City Council meeting for remaining silent during his two-minute public comment period. The ACLU responded to his ejection by saying silence was a form of free speech. The City Council backed down and agreed people could remain silent during their allotted comment period.
No one is immune from Dell’Angela’s wrath. If he believes someone is wasting the public’s money, he’ll go after them. That happened to Payne, who after serving on the City Council, was made head of the city’s transit department by then-Mayor Chavez.
One of Chavez’s ideas was to build a light rail, or trolley, system. The cost was in the hundreds of millions of dollars and Dell’Angela fired up his computer and began ripping the project, Chavez and Payne. Eventually, the project died and Dell’Angela was cited in a front-page article in The Albuquerque Tribune for his persistence in opposing the idea.
Even though he was one of Dell’Angela’s targets, Payne has nothing but praise for him.
“Albuquerque is a city of sheep that is currently being led off a cliff by a pack of wolves,” Payne said.
“Silvio is trying to get the sheep to go in a different direction, and the wolves don’t like it. You’ve got a crew at City Hall that sincerely believes they should never be criticized and that if anything that remotely smacks of criticism comes up, it should be offered meekly and apologetically. Silvio takes a much different approach; he calls bullshit when he thinks it’s appropriate to call it. Silvio is a rabble-rouser in a town that needs a lot more of them, and he refuses to be treated like a serf.”
Payne said taxpayers could have saved tens of millions of dollars if city and police officials had listened to Dell’Angela early on when he first began railing against the APD shootings.
“We would not have had the DOJ come here and take over APD,” Payne said. “For that reason alone, Silvio deserves a pass for any alleged transgressions on his part. He was absolutely dead on about APD.”
Nice doesn’t work
Dell’Angela admits that he is harsh on people, but he knows of no other way to get their attention. And he scoffs at suggestions that he tone things down.
“I go to meetings, and I’m rude sometimes, and that’s an understatement,” Dell’Angela said. “But I don’t give a shit. Some guy once told me, ‘Maybe you’ll have a greater effect if you’re not so brutal with these people.’ I told him I had tried that. I tried that over and over again. I tried that. They don’t care. They laugh at you like you’re a fool.”
No matter who likes or doesn’t like him, no matter who criticizes his approach to dumping on city officials, Dell’Angela clearly isn’t going to stop.
“You’ve got to keep knocking at the wall; maybe that’s how the Berlin Wall came down. You’ve got to keep chipping away a little at a time,” he said. “Nothing is going to change if people give up.”
And he has a message for those who wish he would just shut up and go away: “I’m not going to go away, and I don’t care whether they like what I’m doing or not. If they don’t like it, so be it.”
Dennis Domrzalski is an associate editor at ABQ Free Press. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.